Thursday, March 30, 2006

In the Name of G-d

Some people have the constant tendency to exalt the part and abandon the whole; this is the oldest and most pervasive truth of humankind. Take an eco-system for example, which not only the physical but the spiritual is likened to, where everything has its part and its role, even if the human eye has difficulty discerning it. This is probably why G-d tells of Creation as a Garden; every tree and plant in it has a purpose. Settling with the part and abandoning the whole would be like standing in this Garden and choosing a tree over the Garden. The sheer “size” of the Garden in relation to us, and the infinitely intricate complexity and inter-dependency of everything in existence makes the choice and exaltation of one separate thing particularly alluring; it is easier for us. Reverence for the parts, or one part, becomes a good option when the intricacy and complexity of the whole is recognized, considered, and deemed to difficult to make the focal point of one’s life. When this occurs, a person generally focuses in on one part of existence and attempts to transform that thing into the whole, at least in his or her head. This puts that person entirely out of whack with the rest of existence because G-d created existence as a whole, and we exist in tension with G-d and His Creation, the world, and with each other. Suffice it to say that many people do this, many people choose a path in life that does not recognize the existence of a whole picture, and this is the very reason why humanity exists in such a troubled state. Even the spiritual people of the world, who recognize and believe in a wholeness, are satisfied with selection and exaltation of one part in this mosaic; this explains polytheism. Polytheists were people who believed in deities; gods and goddesses, and they perceived that the nature of existence was oneness, but they also believed that this oneness was segmented into many other forms, all essentially independent, so that all of the forces of existence were separate, but related. In their belief systems, gods or goddesses were assigned to each one of these separate forces of nature, and hence all forms of polytheism choose the parts, and their alluring variety, over the whole. Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, saw beyond the fragmentation of that Oneness and in doing so merited a special relationship with that Oneness, Who them revealed Himself to Abraham; that Oneness is a living Being and He is G-d. His role, and after him, the role of this descendants was to bring the truth of that Oneness out into the open. Even today, in societies where real polytheism does not exist, and theism in general is not taken seriously, there are secular forms of this breaking the Oneness into many; it is especially true that a god or goddess does not need to be the subject of one’s worship in order for a person to be worshipping something; spirituality can be tied into almost anything. Here again we see that many people choose the part over the whole; they attach themselves to a specific or particular goal, a movement maybe, a cause of some sorts, even if it is a worthy, just, and noble cause, and make that the focal point of their understanding of life. It is not bad to choose a goal and to stick to it, but if one chooses such a goal for its own sake and not for the sake of the whole, then whatever it is that they are attempting to improve in the world will not come to fruition. Of course, it is not the easiest thing to contemplate the whole all of the time, and that should never stop a person from doing something positive, because surely the world (and the individuals involved) benefit from any positive action, but the person should not fool him or herself into believing that this one endeavor is the world in which he or she lives, for that would be to ignore the whole. What negative though could possibly come from simply ignoring the whole and choosing a part? Surely it is not bad in and of itself? It is not bad because it neglects the whole, because there is only so much that one human being is able to accomplish, but it is bad because if a human’s efforts are not directed at the whole, then whatever endeavor he or she is involved in, that endeavor becomes a manifestation of that person’s desire to please him or herself, it becomes a means for self-aggrandizement; it is concerned with the self and not with the whole, and therefore it is done for the wrong reason. Still though, we can say that even though a person does a good thing for the wrong reason that the world still benefits because he or she is doing something good. However, a person’s intent in an action determines the actions that he will take from then on, and if his intent is to do something good in order to please himself or to gain acknowledgment, then eventually his desire to please himself will come through, and he will not do a sufficient job in whatever task he has chosen. In other words, if his goal is himself, then even though he has chosen a noble task, if his goal is not the improvement of the whole, then he will have limited success in his endeavor, which could be ultimately damaging to that endeavor and to the people involved. That is why the sake of the whole, or “shem Shamayim,” in the name of Heaven, is necessary when living in the world. Everything that one does should be in the name of G-d, and it is also why people should only do good things then.


haKiruv said...

Interesting post. I like your take on the origins of polytheism. I agree with that. Shabbat Shalom.

jjew said...

Hehe, shavua tov, my friend. I wish I could take credit for that idea, it's actually from "Avodah Zarah" in the Talmud, which is the section on idolatry and explains a bit about its origins. We some real avodah zarah (literally means "foreign worship") today, except that it's unrelated to gods and goddess but to the exhaltation of the self, which one could say was part of the effect of idolatry anyway. Peace, Tamimah, Yaniv..